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Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony: 11 must-see moments in case you missed it

The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games honored the losses of the coronavirus pandemic while celebrating the athletes participating.
/ Source: TODAY

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics (postponed until 2021) are officially underway!

The international competition began with an elaborate opening ceremony. While athletes were masked and the audience consisted of less than a thousand attendees, the ceremony was still filled with beautiful moments and exciting spectacles.

TODAY rounded up our favorite, not-to-be-missed moments from the opening ceremony below.

Here are the 11 best moments from the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony:

1. Arisa Tsubata featured in first sequence

Japanese middleweight boxer Arisa Tsubata was heavily featured in the opening ceremony, running on a treadmill in the middle of the stadium during the ceremony's first sequence.

Boxer Arisa Tsubata runs on a treadmill during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Pete Dovgan / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tsubata was a nurse who treated COVID-19 patients during the pandemic. While she dreamed of competing in the Tokyo Olympics and spent a year coordinating her work shifts around her training, the last boxing qualifier was canceled because of the pandemic, leaving her unable to qualify.

2. Two solemn moments of silence

The opening ceremony commemorated the coronavirus pandemic with interpretive dance and a moment of silence.

“As we join together here in the Olympic Stadium, across Japan and around the world, let us all take a moment to remember all those friends and loved ones who are no longer with us, in particular because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the announcer said. "They will forever have a special place in our hearts. We, the Olympic community, also remember all the Olympians and members of our community who have so sadly left us."

The opening ceremony took a moment to commemorate those who have been lost to the pandemic. Michael Kappeler / picture alliance via Getty Images

The ceremony also honored the Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. This is the first time the murders of the Israeli team have been mentioned in an opening ceremony. Nine athletes were killed, along with five terrorists and a West German policeman.

“In particular, we remember those who lost their lives during the Olympic Games," said the announcer. "One group still hold(s) a strong place in all our memories and stand for all of those we have lost at the Games: the members of the Israeli delegation at the Olympic Games Munich 1972."

3. The Parade of Nations order

When the Parade of Nations began, welcoming athletes from more than two hundred participating countries, some viewers thought the parade was out of order — but it was alphabetical, according to the Japanese alphabet.

Typically, the Parade of Nations is conducted in alphabetical order, with two exceptions: The delegation from Greece, the historical home of the Olympics, leads the procession, and the host nation, in this case Japan, takes the rear.

The order of the nations is arranged based on their names in the host country’s native language. In Tokyo, this meant Iceland — spelled Aisurando in Japanese — followed the Greek team into the stadium.

4. Tonga flag bearer Pita Taufatofua returns ... and inspires another athlete!

Who could forget taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua's viral appearance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, when he showed off a well-oiled chest and stomach during the Parade of Nations, or his reappearance at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyongyang?

In Tokyo, Taufatofua once again repeated the look while carrying the flag for Tonga. TODAY's Savannah Guthrie joked that Tonga might be the "only Olympic nation made famous for its flag bearing."

“Let’s just take a moment,” she deadpanned.

Meanwhile, Taufatofua wasn't the only one going shirtless — Rillio Rii, a rower from Vanuatu, also showed off his torso while carrying the flag of his small nation.

Vanuatu flagbearer Riilio Rii leads the team out during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Japan. Martin Rickett / PA Images via Getty Images

Riii is one of three Olympic athletes from the South Pacific country who will be competing in Tokyo.

5. 1,824 drones fill the sky

It's not an opening ceremony without a light show — and the Tokyo Olympics delivered. More than 1,800 drones hovered above the Olympic Stadium, where they formed a stunning three-dimensional replica of the Tokyo 2020 logo before reforming into a globe.

Savannah couldn't get enough of the display, holding up a copy of one of the drones for audiences to see and praising the coordinated show.

6. Sue Bird serves as flag bearer

This year, nations were invited to choose two flag bearers for the Parade of Nations, instead of just one. For the United States, Sue Bird and Eddy Alvarez were given the honor.

Bird's fiancee, Megan Rapinoe, said in an interview that the role had meant a lot to the basketball star and four-time gold medalist.

"Obviously, she's a five-time Olympian going for her fifth gold medal," Rapinoe said. "I get to see just how much that means to her and how much she puts into it. So, I know this means the world to her and I just couldn't be prouder and happier."

7. Music stars from around the world sing "Imagine"

John Lennon and Yoko Ono's classic song "Imagine" has been featured at previous Olympic Games - and had a moment in the spotlight earlier in the pandemic.

This rendition of the song began with a group of children on the field of the Olympic Stadium singing the opening lines of the song before transitioning to a pre-recorded performance that featured singers like John Legend and Keith Urban.

8. "Kinetic pictograms" are introduced

You might recognize the simplistic stick-figure illustrations of various Olympic sports — and the opening ceremony brought them to life with 50 "kinetic pictograms." According to NBC Sports, the original pictograms were invented in 1964 when Tokyo last hosted the Olympics, so these living versions, brought to life by pantomime performers, serve as a modern update.

While the pictograms might have made quite the splash during the opening ceremony, it's not the last time viewers will see them: The live versions are expected to be used in videos screened during the live coverage of Olympic events and in other parts of news coverage.

Performers pose as sports pictograms during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.Sergei Bobylev / TASS via Getty Images

9. Athletes throw their own opening ceremonies

Some of Team USA's most recognizable athletes weren't at the opening ceremony. While about 200 of the 600 competing athletes marched in the Parade of Nations, the women's soccer and gymnastics teams didn't make an appearance.

The women's gymnastics team said that they didn't attend because of COVID-19 concerns and because they would be competing the next day. If their social media posts are any indication, though, the women of Team USA had plenty of fun at their hotel.

According to social media posts, the women's soccer team couldn't attend because they were practicing for their game tomorrow against New Zealand. The players shared photos and videos of themselves dancing in their hotel and gathering for a watch party.

10. Paper doves are released

In the moments before the Olympic cauldron was lit, the sky was filled with white paper doves. On social media, many noted that athletes and the few attendees in the audience were able to catch the delicate paper birds as they fell.

On Twitter, the official account of the Olympics noted that the doves symbolize the hope to build a "peaceful and better world through sport."

11. Naomi Osaka lights the Olympic cauldron

Four-time Grand Slam champion tennis player Naomi Osaka brought the Olympic Torch to its final destination more than a year after it was first lit. Osaka was born in Japan and made waves earlier this year when she announced that she would not be doing media interviews before the French Open in May, then eventually withdrawing from the event citing mental health concerns.

Savannah called Osaka's role in the ceremony "thrilling."

"She's such an incredible athlete and for her to triumphantly be there and walk those steps, that was a moment for her, for this country, for the year that everyone has been through and what everyone has had to overcome," Savannah said. "It was just incredible for her to be playing here in Tokyo after missing the summer of tennis. You know, in a way, who else could it be? I had hoped it would be her."

CORRECTION (July 23, 2021, 4:36 p.m.): An earlier version of this story misstated that Sue Bird was a torchbearer. She was a flag bearer with Eddy Alvarez.